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Wales’ poor still with us

July 26th 2016

Victoria Winckler looks at the latest figures on poverty which show that there’s been little change for thousands of people in Wales.

Bron Afon mother & child 800

The latest figures on poverty – defined as people living in households with incomes less than 60% of the median – make for disappointing reading. For the last five years the Welsh Government has been ‘tackling poverty’, claiming – at least until recently – that it was their ‘number one priority’.  Sadly, there’s not a lot to show for all that effort, with yet another year passing in which poverty has remained at around the same level – nearly one in four people.

Dig a bit deeper, however, and there’s a few surprises. It’s not at all clear whether these are statistical blips or whether Wales is charting a different course to much of the rest of the UK.

Child Poverty

For once there’s some welcome news – child poverty appears to have fallen, and by a whopping 4 percentage points too.  That’s good news, with Wales being one of only a handful of areas to see a decrease. It’s all the more surprising as most forecasts are that child poverty is growing.

Even so, before we start slapping ourselves on the back it’s worth remembering that nearly 3 in 10 children live in low income families, the third highest rate in the UK.

Pensioner Poverty

There’s another surprise in the shape of pensioner poverty which, contrary to the trends in the UK as a whole, is on the up in Wales after 15 years of decrease.

What’s going on here? Well we just don’t know – it could be a blip although it’s the third blip in a row or it could have something to do with Wales having fewer people receiving occupational pensions than elsewhere.

But, unacceptable though 17% of pensioners living in poverty may be, we should remember it’s only half the rate of child poverty.

Working Age Adults

And last but not least, what about adults of working age? The answer is simple – no change, not in the short term or the long term. In fact, if there’s one conclusion you can draw it’s that reducing poverty amongst adults is really, really difficult. And it’s poor adults that are the parents of poor children, and who become poor pensioners.

So, what to do?

It shouldn’t need repeating but poverty blights lives and costs the public purse a fortune – child poverty alone probably costs Wales around £1.6 billion. It affects how well children do at school, how likely people are to be ill, their risk of violence and their life expectancy.

The fact that poverty is clearly very difficult to change should not mean that our governments put it in the too-difficult box. We no longer have a Minister for Tackling Poverty but that doesn’t mean the Welsh Government should stop ‘tackling it’.

Indeed, with a very uncertain outlook economically there is all the more reason for the Welsh Government, local authority leaders, business people, and leaders of faith and community groups to make sure that nobody falls far below society’s norms.

It’s time for the Welsh Government to adopt a new, fresh approach to not just tackling but reducing poverty.

Victoria Winckler is Director of the Bevan Foundation.

This article is based on a briefing produced for subscribers to the Bevan Foundation – a summary is available here.

 

 

 

 

 

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